Two decades, four presidents and countless broken hearts after angels first fluttered over the American theater, the lines remain blurred between fear and forgiveness, love and desire, and justice and the law. No wonder that Tony Kushner’s epic “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” endures as a work of uncommon power and poignancy. For evidence, look no further than ion theatre’s production, on stage through Dec. 11 at the Lyceum Space below Horton Plaza. Numbing in its sadness but as kinetic as a light switch being flipped on and off, this “Angels in America” is cerebrally and emotionally draining. You exit spent, but with the quiet inner exuberance that there is hope for humanity.
The two parts of “Angels in America,” “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” are being presented in repertory, though you can see them back to back (with a break) on Saturdays and Sundays. For all their length (“Millennium” runs 155 minutes, “Perestroika” 170, each with two 10-minute intermissions), the productions move at a steady pace. The many scenes are episodic, and the interweaving story lines (the dying devil, Roy Cohn; the also-dying but tender-hearted Prior and his conflicted lover, Louis; the closeted Mormon lawyer Joe and his drug-addled wife, Harper) multilayered but as fundamental as loving and wanting to be loved. AIDS and death are looming and unfathomable. Perhaps ironically, only when an actual angel descends upon the proceedings do Kushner’s dialectic and revelatory soul-baring turn ponderous.
Ion’s cast is formidable: Kyle Sorrell stands out as young Prior, whose fight for life and reluctance to be God’s “prophet” we feel to the marrow. Jessica John Gercke, as Harper, is delusional but never desperate. Kevane La’Marr Coleman does well by the wise and witty Belize. Catalina Maynard manages multiple roles with aplomb, including Joe’s (Jason Heil) Mormon mother and a reappearing rabbi. Jesse MacKinnon spits his lines as the spit-worthy Cohn.
“Angels in America” is a treatise on social, sexual and gender politics, but more so a bridge over the vast chasm between life and death – or is it just a footstep?
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.